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Julia Cation
Owner and Designer, Darlington Originals
Champaign, IL

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“While working full-time, I had grown tired of my daily efforts being spent working for someone else, and I yearned to be my own boss in a business that incorporated both my creative and business backgrounds.”

I’m the owner and designer of Darlington Originals, a custom leather handbag company. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, earned a PR degree from Loyola University New Orleans, and then moved to Champaign, IL for a job at the University of Illinois in 2003. While working in marketing at the U of I, I was always dreaming of starting my own business—one that would incorporate my natural creativity. While still working full-time, I decided to go back to school to earn my MBA, in order to gain a more solid foundation in business and, hopefully, lessen my chances of failing. After years of research, developing a business plan, locating suppliers and a manufacturer, I opened Darlington Originals for business online in December 2011.

Sophie bag-Darlington Originals-69What inspires you?  I’m inspired by my friends and family, because I think everyday women can have great style that’s not necessarily seen in fashion magazines or on celebrities. I’m inspired by famous women, too—Iris Apfel is probably my favorite. She never cared what others thought of her somewhat kooky style, and look at her now—she’s an icon! Growing up, I felt pulled to wear different styles of clothing that weren’t necessarily “cool,” and while I took the plunge at times and wore the crazy flowery pants that called out to me at the thrift store, I didn’t have the confidence to actually own it, and dress that uniquely everyday. So I admire young women now, like the blogger/writer Tavi Gevinson and other teenagers who have the courage to be themselves and have their own voice.

Do you have a favorite quote?  “It’s always best to be yourself. You have to care deeply and at the same time not give a damn.” – Iris Apfel

What are the most pressing issues facing women today?  I realize there are a lot of issues in the world facing women right now, but I’m going to focus on American women because that’s the group I personally know best. I think there’s just an insane amount of pressure for us to be perfect all the time. I know I feel it, and I’m not even a mother yet—which is where I think women experience the most societal pressure to conform. In my opinion, this pressure and judgment placed on us, and that, in response, we place on ourselves, results in so many of us feeling inadequate—whether it’s about the clothes we don’t have, the always-perfect home we don’t own, or whether we have well-behaved and well-rounded children. All this, plus the pressure to succeed on the job and work more than we have time for. Honestly, I think the way American society views the role of women really forces us to go to extremes to be happy, instead of just having the courage to think for ourselves, rely on our God-given instincts, and create our own life paths.

Camille bag-Darlington Originals-11What are the biggest keys to your success?  I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of my husband and our families. My parents, my mother-in-law, and my sister and brother-in-law have been very generous in helping me get my business off the ground. I’m also proud to say my company was funded in part thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign (, and I would not be here without the generosity of a very large community of supporters.

What are the biggest keys to the advancement or success of women?  Having people around you who believe in and talk you through your goals is very important. But honestly, starting a business and sticking with it requires an extreme level of confidence in your own vision. You have to want to persevere even when you feel like you’re done and you’ve had enough of the struggle. It’s being able to see beyond that struggle and dragging your mind to a place where you’re able to come up with creative solutions to the challenges that will allow you to keep moving.

Where did the inspiration for your business come from?  Darlington Originals is named after the street I grew up on in Tulsa, and all of my handbags are named for some of the important people in my life. While working full-time, I had grown tired of my daily efforts being spent working for someone else, and I yearned to be my own boss in a business that incorporated both my creative and business backgrounds. I knew of a custom handbag business in Chicago that had been around awhile, but I didn’t think their styles or their textiles were all that exciting, at least for the prices they charged. I loved the concept but I thought I could do it better. And I thought: why not make an even nicer handbag out of leather instead of fabric? And why not make the styles more fashion-forward and appealing from a design standpoint?

Emery bag-Darlington Originals-69Where is your product sold?  Currently, my handbags are only sold on my website,, where you can go through the fun steps of customizing your handbag, choosing the leathers, interior fabric, and gold or silver hardware. Within the next several months, I will also have a collection on, which is an exciting new development.

What advice do you have for a woman who is considering starting a business?  First, I think it’s absolutely vital that your personality allows you to have the strength to keep plugging away during times when you’d rather give up the struggle. Because you will struggle more times than you think you can handle. But you can handle it if you remember how to. Second, connecting with people is key. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the bridge to your next phase of success, or in finding a solution to a problem, can come from the most unlikely people. It could literally be the person sitting next to you at the coffee shop.

What are the biggest hurdles you’ve faced in starting or growing your business? How did you overcome these?  The biggest hurdle I faced was during the development phase of my business when I was struggling to find a quality manufacturer – or even good seamstresses or skilled workers who knew how to work with leather. I realized quickly that leather working is a dying art in this country, and there’s a reason people weren’t jumping at the chance to start a custom leather handbag business! It took me many months to find my manufacturer (right here in the Midwest), and in the end, I found them through a shared connection.

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